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School districts in New York State will be allowed to reopen for in-person instruction this fall, so long as their region’s infection rate remains low and their reopening plans are approved by the state.

Though district have already submitted reopening plans to the state addressing in-person instruction, today was Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deadline for his final decision on whether New York’s schools can officially resume in-person classes in September.

The state will begin releasing individual decisions on each school district’s reopening plan next week, Cuomo said.

Riverhead’s reopening plan calls for a blend of both in-person and remote instruction, with alternating “cohorts” of students attending class in person or logging on from home.

Riverhead does not have the building capacity or the staff to resume daily in-person instruction for every student due to the size of its population, the district announced when releasing its plans. With the social distancing required under the state’s current guidelines, there is simply not enough space in Riverhead’s buildings to fit all of its students at one time — nor are there enough teachers or staff.

“We wish nothing more than to have all of our students in school every day, as we know that this is the best way to meet our students’ academic, physical, and social-emotional needs,” said Christine Tona, interim superintendent, in a letter to parents announcing the plan. “However, due to the pandemic, we must follow the guidelines established by these agencies.”

The reopening formula the state released last month continues to apply, Cuomo said.

Schools may still only reopen if their region has entered Phase Four, and the region’s daily positive test rate must currently be below 5%, based on a two-week rolling average. Once the state approves a school district’s reopening plan, the threshold for the positive test rate in that district’s region increases to 10%, which means the district must shift to remote instruction if the one-week average positive test rate rises above 10%.

Every region in New York State currently has a daily positive test rate of around 1% or lower, according to the state’s regional dashboard. 

Long Island’s seven-day average is currently at 1.1%, and Suffolk is at 1.2%.

Regardless of the state’s announcement, the ultimate decision lies with parents, Cuomo said.

“I have been deluged by calls from parents and teachers,” he said. “And there is a significant level of anxiety and concern.”

“If the teachers don’t come back, then you can’t really open schools,” he added. “If the parents don’t send their students, then you’re not really opening the schools.”

Cuomo is asking districts to break out several commonly asked questions from their plans in order to foster better communication and trust between school districts and their communities.

“Parents can go right to these specific answers, rather than wading through the entire district’s plan,” he said. “Because these plans are quite lengthy.”

School districts should break out their remote learning plan, he said, with details on how the district will ensure a fair and equitable learning environment to all students, including those with poor access to technology.

School districts should also break out their plans for testing protocols for teachers and students, including the circumstances in which students and staff will have access to testing. They should also include protocols for contact tracing, which is often carried out by local health departments, so that families and staff have full transparency into the contact tracing process and how much exposure should lead to contact tracing.

School districts should schedule at least three discussion sessions with parents, either online or in-person, where parents can ask schools officials their questions about reopening, he said.

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Katie Morosky
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a co-publisher of RiverheadLOCAL. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie